Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Disappointingly, New York Times editorial board tepidly notes how "Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots"

Detail_of_a_new_york_times_advertisement_1895More than two years ago, as first reported here, this seemingly historic new New York Times editorial called for the legalization of marijuana under the bold headline "Repeal Prohibition, Again." At the time, I had thought this action by the Gray Lady's editorial board would mean that the marijuana reform movement would have a high-profile and powerful media champion and advocate.

Disappointingly (though perhaps not surprisingly), while the NY Times editorial board has been a a high-profile and powerful media voice on a number of other modern criminal justice reform issues, the Times editorial pages has been anything but bold (and has often just been silent) in the last two years on a wide range of notable state and federal marijuana reform issues. In 2016, for example, which has arguably been the most significant year (and after this election will be surely the most consequential year) in the modern history of the reform of state and federal marijuana laws (and which the New York Times has covered extensively as news), the NY Times editorial board until this week had put forward only one single editorial advocating for marijuana reforms.  (In telling contrast, the NY Times editorial board has had at least a dozen editorials advocating against forcefully capital punishment in 2016. )

 I would think that if the editorial board was still truly committed to its advocacy in 2014 that the US should "Repeal Prohibition, Again," that it would be saying a whole lot more on this topic during this critical year.  Against that backdrop, I am disappointed (but I suppose not too surprised) that this new New York Times editorial headlined "Marijuana Lights Up State Ballots" is marked more by reporting than by advocacy. Here are excerpts:

People in nine states, including California, Florida and Massachusetts, will vote Nov. 8 on ballot proposals permitting recreational or medical use of marijuana. These initiatives could give a big push to legalization, prompting the next president and Congress to overhaul the country’s failed drug laws. This is a big moment for what was a fringe movement a few years ago. A Gallup poll released on Wednesday showed 60 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, up from 31 percent in 2000 and 12 percent in 1969.

The drive to end prohibition comes after decades in which marijuana laws led to millions of people being arrested and tens of thousands sent to prison, a vast majority of whom never committed any violent crimes. These policies have had a particularly devastating effect on minority communities. Federal and state governments have spent untold billions of dollars on enforcement, money that could have been much better spent on mental health and substance abuse treatment.

So far, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana, and 25 states permit medical use. A recent Cato Institute study found that the states that have legalized recreational use have so far had no meaningful uptick in the use of marijuana by teenagers, or other negative consequences predicted by opponents. For example, in Colorado, drug-related expulsions and suspensions from schools have gone down in recent years. There has been no spike in drug-related traffic accidents and fatalities in Colorado or Washington.

On Election Day, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will consider proposals to allow recreational use. In California, which approved medical use in 1996, polls show that the measure is likely to win. In Massachusetts, a recent poll showed 55 percent of likely voters supporting legalization. In Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota, residents will vote on medical marijuana. If Florida voters say yes, other Southern states that have been resistant to liberalizing drug laws could reconsider their prohibitions, too.

Passage of these proposals should increase pressure on the federal government to change how it treats marijuana. The Obama administration has chosen not to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states like Colorado and Washington. But this bizarre situation can’t last — even as more states legalize the drug, state-licensed marijuana businesses remain criminal operations under federal law. Even if they are not prosecuted by the federal government, this conflict in their legal status creates immense problems....

States are driving the change in marijuana policy because they see the damage created by draconian drug laws on communities, families and state budgets. It’s time the federal government acknowledged these costs and got out of the way of states adopting more rational laws.

When I saw the headline for this editorial --- which, as I suggested before, seems to be mostly a report of reality and fails to do much editorializing --- I at least expected it to mention and link to the New York Times' prior 2014 editorial calling for the US to "Repeal Prohibition, Again." I do not believe that the New York Times has changed its editorial stance on this front, but they seem now almost intent to make sure nobody remembers their bold advocacy two years ago.

Moreover, this "editorial," while seemingly eager to note that "negative consequences predicted by opponents" of reform have not materialized, entirely fails to note or highlights that all of the positive consequences predicted by supporters of marijuana reform have come to pass: huge new tax revenues are being collected, economic development has been considerable, arrest rates have gone down dramatically, and adults have safe and legal access to their preferred medicine or recreational drug. Simply saying at the end here that the federal government should get "out of the way of states adopting more rational laws" (which the Obama Administration has largely done, though Congress could and should do it more formally) is about the weakest tea support for reform I could imagine.

I suppose that when a paper's nickname is the "Gray Lady," I was foolish to expect or hope it would act or advocate like even a young smart conservative advocate (whom polls show support medical marijuana reform 10 to 1 and full marijuana reform 3 to 1). Still, I feel now as though the 2014 editorial headline really should have been "Repeal Prohibition, Again.... but do not expect the Gray Lady to really try to help make that happen anytime soon."

October 20, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New Gallup poll finds record high support for marijuana legalization

Uu5e1ycj_kqf1dim_mvmewThis new Gallup item, headlined "Support for Legal Marijuana Use Up to 60% in U.S," details the results of its latest annual poll on marijuana opinion.  Here are the highlights:

With voters in several states deciding this fall whether to legalize the use of marijuana, public support for making it legal has reached 60% -- its highest level in Gallup's 47-year trend....

When Gallup first asked this question in 1969, 12% of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana use.  In the late 1970s, support rose to 28% but began to retreat in the 1980s during the era of the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign.  Support stayed in the 25% range through 1995, but increased to 31% in 2000 and has continued climbing since then.

In 2013, support for legalization reached a majority for the first time after Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.  Since then, a majority of Americans have continued to say they think the use of marijuana should be made legal.  Today's 60% is statistically similar to the previous high of 58% reached in 2013 and 2015, so it is unclear whether support has stabilized or is continuing to inch higher.

Support for legalizing marijuana use has increased among most subgroups in the past decade, but more so among certain groups than others.  For example, support is up 33 percentage points to 77% among adults aged 18 to 34, while it is up 16 points among adults aged 55 and older to 45%....

Additionally, support is up more among independents and Democrats than it is among Republicans, partly because of the older age skew of the last group.  Seventy percent of independents and 67% of Democrats support legal pot use, a major increase since the combined survey of 2003 and 2005 when 46% of independents and 38% of Democrats supported the idea.  While less than a majority of members in any political party backed legalizing marijuana in 2003 and 2005, Democrats and independents have fueled the recent nationwide surge in support. Republicans' support has doubled from more than a decade ago, yet only 42% of GOP members now support legal marijuana use.

If recreational marijuana use becomes legal in California this year, many other states will likely follow, because the "Golden State" often sets political trends for the rest of the U.S. As more states legalize marijuana, the question of whether the drug should be legal may become when it will be legal.  The transformation in public attitudes about marijuana over the past half-century has mirrored the liberalization of public attitudes about gay rights and the same-sex-marriage movement, the latter of which the U.S. Supreme Court deemed legal last year. It is possible that it might take a Supreme Court case to settle this matter, too.

October 19, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New Pew polling shows record high public support for recreational marijuana legalization

FT_16.10.11_marijuanaLegal_trendThe Pew Research Center has this new posting headlined "Support for marijuana legalization continues to rise," reporting on the results of its latest polling. Here are the particulars:

The share of Americans who favor legalizing the use of marijuana continues to increase. Today, 57% of U.S. adults say the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 37% say it should be illegal. A decade ago, opinion on legalizing marijuana was nearly the reverse – just 32% favored legalization, while 60% were opposed.

The shift in public opinion on the legalization of marijuana has occurred during a time when many U.S. states are relaxing their restrictions on the drug or legalizing it altogether. In June, Ohio became the 25th state (plus Washington, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico) to legalize marijuana in some form after Gov. John Kasich signed a medical marijuana program into law. This November, Americans in nine states will vote on measures to establish or expand legal marijuana use.

Young adults have disproportionately driven the shift toward public support of the drug, though support is rising among other generations as well. Millennials – those ages 18 to 35 in 2016 – are more than twice as likely to support legalization of marijuana as they were in 2006 (71% today, up from 34% in 2006), and are significantly more likely to support legalization than other generations.

Support for marijuana legalization has also increased among members of Generation X and Baby Boomers (ages 36-51 and 52-70 in 2016, respectively). More than half of Gen Xers (57%) support legalization, a considerable jump from just 21% in 1990. A majority of Boomers (56%) also support legalization, up from just 17% in 1990.

The Pew Research Center survey, conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 among 1,201 U.S. adults, also finds persistent partisan and ideological divides in public opinion on marijuana legalization. By more than two-to-one, Democrats favor legalizing marijuana over having it be illegal (66% vs. 30%). Most Republicans (55%) oppose marijuana legalization, while 41% favor it.

Republicans are internally divided over marijuana legalization. By a wide margin (63% to 35%), moderate and liberal Republicans favor legalizing the use of marijuana. By contrast, 62% of conservative Republicans oppose legalizing marijuana use, while just 33% favor it. The differences among Democrats are more modest. Liberal Democrats are 23 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to favor legalization (78% vs. 55%).

As past Pew Research Center surveys have found, Hispanics are less supportive of legalizing marijuana than are whites or blacks. Hispanics are divided – 49% say the use of marijuana should be illegal, while 46% say it should be legal. Identical majorities of whites and blacks (59% each) favor marijuana legalization.

I do not find the age-based and party-based polling particulars to be at all surprising, but I do find it quite notable and interesting that this poll suggests Latinos are slightly more likely to oppose than support marijuana legalization. I suspect that this finding could and would be even more interesting and telling if the Latino responses were broken down further by age, as I suspect older Latinos might continue to recall and fear the anti-Mexican/Latino biases that were integral to a whole lot of anti-marijuana policies and rhetoric until very recently.

The interesting Pew Center finding about Latino views on marijuana legalization also provides still further reasons to pay particular attention this election cycle to the marijuana reform ballot initiatives in states like Arizona and California and Florida. In addition to wondering whether exit polling in those states might confirm the likelihood of large blocks of Latino voters ending up on the "no" side of reforms, the traditionally different Latino origins that distinguish Latino population in different states might reveal still further deep insights into whether there are actually an array of distinct policy views on these issues among distinct groups of Latinos.

October 13, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Effective snapshot of marijuana reform debate and polling four weeks before (game-changing?) 2016 election

The Atlantic has this effective new piece that provide an astute "at this moment" perspective on marijuana reform developments and the coming election sure to impact them.  The piece is headlined "Marijuana's Moment: As many as five states could approve its recreational use this November, potentially signaling a point of no return for legalized pot," and it merits a full read.  Here are excerpts:

Recreational marijuana users can now legally light up a joint in states representing about 5 percent of the U.S. population. By the time Americans wake up on November 9, that percentage could be swelling to more than one-quarter.  Measures to legalize and regulate the sale of cannabis are on the ballot in California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada, and recent polls show the “yes” vote is winning in all five states. Approval would mark the biggest advance yet for advocates in the decades-long fight over legalizing marijuana—one that they believe could ultimately force the federal government to end its prohibition of the drug.

“On November 8, you can safely say we’ve reached the tipping point if these go our way,” said Tom Angell, founder of the group Marijuana Majority.  The most important battleground is California, where advocates expect voters to approve personal use of pot six years after they defeated a similar measure.  Support for Proposition 64 is polling at nearly 60 percent, and the measure has drawn support from leading politicians and newspapers that opposed it in 2010, including Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.  The leading candidate for California’s open Senate seat, Kamala Harris, predicted Wednesday that voters would approve the law, although as the state’s attorney general she can’t formally take a position....

Beyond California, slimmer majorities of voters are backing full legalization in Massachusetts, Arizona, and Maine.  In Nevada, polls have been mixed, with one in September showing strong support for passage and a more recent survey suggesting voters are split.....

Legalization advocates are trying to replicate their successes from 2012 and 2014, when voters sanctioned recreational marijuana use in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington D.C.  But they are facing a better-organized opposition this year led by the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has argued that the proposed laws are creating another “Big Tobacco,” but for marijuana.  They say these laws are industry-backed initiatives that allow companies to market pot to children just like cigarette companies did for decades.  “This is not about marijuana,” said Kevin Sabet, the president of SAM.  He travels around the country warning that ballot measures legalizing marijuana are dangerously lax and written by an industry that wants to hook kids on pot lollipops and other “cannabis candy.”

“This is about a small amount of people making a lot of money,” he said.  “This is not about personal liberty.”  That’s especially true, Sabet argued, in California, where medical marijuana is famously easy to obtain and where recreational use hasn’t been considered a felony for 40 years.  The drive to legalize, then, is all about business.

Sabet also disputes the idea that November will be a tipping point for marijuana legalization if the ballot measures in California and elsewhere prevail.  “This is a very long game,” he said.  “This is not going to be determined once and for all either this November or in November of 2018.”  Sabet said there is already a backlash building in local communities in states that have legalized pot, spurred by rising rates of marijuana use and a spike in traffic fatalities linked to stoned drivers.

Sabet was speaking to me from an airport after leading seven rallies over two days against the California ballot measure. “California is much closer than we’re hearing about,” he argued.  “It’s a coin flip in all of the states right now.”  As Sabet sees it, the burden is lower for opponents of a ballot initiative like marijuana legalization to convince voters to go their way.  “With ‘no,’ you just have to put a little bit of doubt in people’s minds, and they are movable,” he told me.  “The more we get our message across, the more people change their minds from ‘yes’ to ‘no.’”

That’s a dynamic that worries Angell, a 15-year veteran of the legalization fight.  He launched the Marijuana Majority in 2012 as a way of broadcasting the breadth of public support for the movement....   Though Marijuana Majority touts polls showing that 88 percent of voters nationwide support medical marijuana and 58 percent back full legalization, Angell is not as confident as [others] about a broad victory in November.   Support for ballot measures typically drops in the run-up to an election, he notes.  And while supporters of legal pot are outspending opponents, he worries about the movement’s version of an “October surprise” — a rumored move by the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson to pour millions into last-minute ads against ballot measures in Nevada and Florida.  “I am very concerned about where we are in a number of these states right now,” Angell said. “It’s a little too close for comfort.”

In addition to the full legalization measures, voters in four other states — Florida, Montana, North Dakota, and Arkansas — are considering laws approving medical marijuana.  Supporters are confident about their chances in Florida but are less certain in Montana and North Dakota, where there has been little polling on the issue. They are most concerned about Arkansas because there are two medical-marijuana measures on the ballot — one supported by the legalization movement and another that is considerably narrower and more restrictive. “There’s a concern that voters will simply vote their favorite medical-marijuana measure and split the vote,” Angell said....

Another worry, Angell said, is complacency and overconfidence among marijuana advocates.  Contrary to Sabet’s claims, he complained that the marijuana industry was not contributing enough to the legalization drive — and indeed, the medical-marijuana community in California is reportedly divided over the ballot measure in part because small growers view it as a boon to big business, according to the Los Angeles Times.  The California Growers Association, for example, decided to stay neutral on the proposal. “There’s almost this sense that marijuana will legalize itself, that we’ve already won,” Angell said. If victories this year could put legalization on a nationwide path, losses would be a momentum killer. “A lot,” he admitted, “is riding on this.”

October 11, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

"Are Religious People Less Likely to Support Marijuana Legalization?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this interesting article reporting on some interesting new research.  Here are the details:

People who believe that the Bible should be taken as the literal word of God may be much less likely to support the legalization of marijuana than those who believe the Bible is a book of moral fables, according to a new study.

The study found that people who reported in national surveys that they believed that the Bible is God's word were 58 percent less likely to also say they support marijuana legalization, compared with people who thought the Bible is a book of fables and should not be taken literally. In addition, the more frequently that people attended religious services, the less likely they were to support marijuana legalization, the study found.

However, the extent to which people considered themselves to be religious was not a significant predictor of their views on marijuana legalization, said study author Daniel Krystosek, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Nevada. The results show that the relationship between people's religiousness and their views on marijuana legalization is complex, according to the study, published Sept. 3 in the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice [available here].

In the study, Krystosek pooled data from three years of national surveys that included a total of about 3,800 people in the U.S.  The surveys were conducted in 2006, 2008 and 2010 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.  The surveys included questions about whether people thought that marijuana should be legal.  The surveys also asked how often people attended religious services, to what extent they considered themselves to be religious, how often they prayed, and whether they thought that the Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally or whether it is an ancient book of fables that should not be interpreted literally....

In the study, he also found that people with conservative political views were about 53 percent less likely to support marijuana legalization, compared with people with liberal views.  People who had moderate views were 37 percent less likely to support marijuana legalization, compared with people with liberal views....

The older the people in the study, the less likely they were to support marijuana legalization. "As people get older, they start families, and many parents do not want their children experimenting with drugs," Krystosek wrote in the study. "Therefore, they might oppose the legalization of marijuana."

September 30, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Religion, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Obama’s Opioid Offensive Again Ignores the Cannabis Solution"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary authored by Don Fitch over at Marijuana Politics.  Here are excerpts (with links and emphasis from the original):

Startled by high numbers of American deaths from opioids, the Obama administration’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch has again declared an offensive. Her plan of action: alert the 94 federal prosecutors to gear up for more of the same war on drugs.  This time, physicians who oversubscribe opioids (in the DEA’s suspicions at least), are prime targets. Yet again, no thought was given to harnessing  medical cannabis as a far safer alternative.

The epidemic of opioid addiction and death should be resetting the war on drugs. The statistics are harsh: from the year 2000 to the present, opioids deaths have quadrupled, to over 28,000 per year. Deaths (usually suffocation) from opioids now outnumber automobile fatalities.  Americans opioid users are so numerous, they now have their own new pharmaceutical drug for counteracting an opioid side effect.  Read about it in, at “Opioid-Induced Constipation”: Big Pharma More Interested in Treating Your Bowel Movements Than Saving Your Life.

 Regarding the drug war in general, the supremely ludicrous truth is that now drug overdose deaths are at an all-time high. Is this an acceptable outcome for a 45 year, trillion-dollar war on drugs? For this colossal failure, the DEA should be bum-rushed out the door.  Instead, we are now essentially offered more of the same war on drugs by an oblivious Department of Justice and Obama administration.

Especially in the context of the opioid crisis, marijuana is a medicine that is saving lives. Cannabis can help prevent, weaken, and even end opioid addictions. Cannabis-based solutions to the opioid problem are becoming more and more obvious to everyone except the drug warriors.  Increasingly, headlines shout the connection:

With this avalanche of insight that medical cannabis is a viable solution to opioid addiction and death, it is puzzling that Obama’s initiatives have ignored this resource.  But yet again the president gives the Justice Department the lead role in intervening in what is basically a public health problem.  Joining the prosecutors were representatives of addiction recovery services, a group notoriously dishonest about cannabis.

Nowhere to be seen nor heard were advocates of medical cannabis as preventatives and far safer pain relief alternatives to addictive and death-inducing opioids.  Apparently, the administration finds it politically incorrect to even consider medical marijuana as a solution for anything....

The Obama administration’s strict politically correct anti-marijuana line is blatantly anti-science and wounding to public health. And it is no longer even politically correct.  A majority of Americans now believe marijuana should be legal for all adults; an overwhelming majority feel cannabis should legal medically.  The Obama administration, most of the Congress, and self-serving bureaucracies such as the DEA are decades behind the American public.  Their obsolete and dishonest approach will lead to more American lives lost to opioid addiction and death.


September 26, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Effective review of the nine state with marijuana initiatives going to voters this November

International Business Times has this up-to-date article, headlined "Marijuana Legalization 2016 Ballot: Which States Are Voting On Cannabis Laws On Election Day?," providing an effective review of where and what voters will be considering as to marijuana reform in numerous states. Here are the basics:

More than 82 million U.S. residents will have the chance to cast ballots on marijuana measures when they go to vote for president come Election Day in November. Marijuana laws – whether it be to legalize or decriminalize – have been added to the ballot in nine states. Here's everything you need to know about the marijuana proposals voters will decide on come Nov. 8.

Arizona – Under the guidelines of Proposition 205, or Arizona’s Marijuana Legalization Initiative, adults 21 and up would be allowed to possess and recreationally use one ounce or less of marijuana....

Arkansas – The Natural State is set to vote on two marijuana measures: Arkansas Issue 7 Medical Cannabis Statute and Arkansas Medical Marijuana Issue 6. If the majority of residents vote “yes” for Issue 6, then medical marijuana will be legal and a dispensary and cultivation license fees will receive a cap....

California – Medical cannabis has been legal in California since 1996. Proposition 64, also called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would legalize recreational weed and hemp for people 21 and older....

Florida – Amendment 2 legalizes medical marijuana for patients suffering from specific debilitating diseases including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis....

Maine – Question 1 (2016) would legalize recreational use of marijuana throughout the state, which has allowed legal medical marijuana since 1999.

Massachusetts – Question 4 would fully legalize marijuana with regulations similar to the state’s approach to alcoholic beverages....

Montana – Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative I-182 is an amendment to the already-passed Montana Medical Marijuana Act. Should the new measure pass, the current medical marijuana laws will be adjusted to allow more patients access to medical marijuana....

Nevada – People 21 and older would be able to possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes under Nevada’s Question 2.

North Dakota – Initiated Statutory Measure 5 gives patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, Hepatitis C, ALS, and glaucoma and epilepsy access to medical marijuana with a specific identification card.

September 24, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Are all opponents of marijuana reform ultimately suspicious and critical of capitalism and free markets?

The question in the title of this post came to my mind as I started heading this morning the great book I first flagged here at my sentencing blog: Harvard historian Lisa McGirr's The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State.  The start of the book highlights how many early alcohol Prohibitionist were much more troubled by and focused on the "liquor trade" and "liquor trafficking" rather than just individuals drinking.  

I see, of course, a huge parallel in this sense to the leading modern anti-marijuana-reform group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which repeatedly claims that its advocacy is not driven by support for blanket marijuana prohibition enforced by criminal sanctions, but rather is just concerned about the creation of a legal "Big Marijuana" industry.  As SAM explains here at its website

People often ask us what our biggest fear of legalization is.  The answer is simple: Big Pot....

The tobacco and alcohol industries follow similar patterns while hawking their legal, addictive substances. And we know how that story ends: money-hungry industries, targeting the vulnerable, will stop at nothing to increase addiction and profit. Why on earth would we want to repeat that debacle with cannabis?

I bring this up because I have long said and long believed that my affinity for and support of marijuana reform is part of a "conservative" commitment not only to personal liberty but also to capitalism and free markets. Though I fully understand and respect concerns about the long-term political and practical impact of "Big Marijuana" (and/or Big Pharma and/or Big Oil and/or Big Google), I still firmly believe the long-term political and practical impact of Big Government is and should be more worrisome at least to those who are fans of capitalism and free markets.  Ergo, I think it is fair to at least suggest that all opponents of marijuana reform (and even a good number of marijuana reform supporters) are likely fundamentally suspicious and critical of capitalism and free markets.

September 23, 2016 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Appreciating the northeastern midwest's magical medical marijuana research opportunities

Corporate_mapAs marijuana reform advocates (and perhaps regular readers) know, 2016 has been something of a banner year for medical marijuana reform in key part of the northern midwest.  Specifically,

--- in April, Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor signed into law the Keystone State's new medical marijuana law (basics here);

--- in June, Ohio's Republican Governor signed into law the Buckeye State's new medical marijuana law (basics here); and

--- in September, as reported here, Michigan's Republican Governor signed into law new medical marijuana regulations.

As a number of folks know, these three states are always interesting to watch and study politically and practically on an array of issues for an array of reasons.  Pennsylvania is at once an urban east-coast state around Philadelphia, an urban midwest state around Pittsburgh, and a rural state in between.  Ohio is the ultimate bellwether state with urban, suburban and rural, northern and southern regions and populations that closely mirror many national realities.  And Michigan likewise has a diverse array of distinctive regions (and, in this context, has a considerable history of a legal but largely unregulated medical marijuana industry).

I could go on and on about why each of these states with their own distinctive (and still developing) medical marijuana laws justify close study individually.  But my point in this post is to highlight the unique and uniquiely important research opportunity presented by the fact that all three of these (connected) states have new and detailed medical marijuana regulations coming on line at roughly the same time.  In particular, I am hopeful that some of the independent research entities following marijuana reform developments closely (e.g., the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation) will give particular attention in the months and years ahead to these particular democratic laboratories.

September 22, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Medical Marijuana Laws and Tobacco Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper authored by Anna Choi, Dhaval Dave and Joseph Sabia now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This study comprehensively examines whether medical marijuana laws (MMLs) have affected the trajectory of a decades-long decline in adult tobacco use in the United States.  Using data from three large national datasets — the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), the Current Population Survey Tobacco Use Supplements (CPS-TUS), and the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) — we estimate the relationship between MMLs and cigarette consumption.

Our results show that the enactment of MMLs between 1990 and 2012 are associated with a 0.3 to 0.7 percentage-point reduction in tobacco consumption among US adults, though this estimate is somewhat sensitive to controls for state-specific linear time trends.  These findings suggest that tobacco and marijuana are substitutes for many users.  However, this average response masks heterogeneity in the effects of MMLs among early versus late-adopting states and across the age distribution.

September 20, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cato Institute releases new policy analysis on marijuana legalization providing a "Dose of Reality"

I am very pleased to see the release of this lengthy new policy analysis published by the Cato institute under the title "Dose of Reality: The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations." Here is its executive summary:

In November 2012 voters in the states of Colorado and Washington approved ballot initiatives that legalized marijuana for recreational use.  Two years later, Alaska and Oregon followed suit.  As many as 11 other states may consider similar measures in November 2016, through either ballot initiative or legislative action.

Supporters and opponents of such initiatives make numerous claims about state-level marijuana legalization. Advocates think legalization reduces crime, raises tax revenue, lowers criminal justice expenditures, improves public health, bolsters traffic safety, and stimulates the economy.  Critics argue that legalization spurs marijuana and other drug or alcohol use, increases crime, diminishes traffic safety, harms public health, and lowers teen educational achievement.  Systematic evaluation of these claims, however, has been largely absent.

This paper assesses recent marijuana legalizations and related policies in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

Our conclusion is that state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes.  We cannot rule out small effects of legalization, and insufficient time has elapsed since the four initial legalizations to allow strong inference.  On the basis of available data, however, we find little support for the stronger claims made by either opponents or advocates of legalization. The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents.

September 19, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

"Legal Cannabis in the US: Not Whether But How?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new paper authored by Sam Kamin. Here is the abstract:

The 2016 election promises to be a turning point in the history of marijuana regulation in this country.  Although the federal prohibition on all marijuana conduct remains in place, twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia currently authorize the medical use of marijuana and four states plus D.C. have legalized marijuana use by all adults.  Many more states are expected to vote on marijuana law reform this fall and these numbers are almost certain to grow; the end of federal marijuana prohibition may soon be close at hand.

But it is important to remember that federal drug policy – like the state-level drug reform that has preceded it – is not an all-or-nothing choice.  Federal lawmakers will not choose between the current system under which marijuana is prohibited in all circumstances and for all purposes and a world in which there are no limits placed on how marijuana is produced, distributed, and consumed.  

My goal in this essay is to describe the current, tenuous status of marijuana under state and federal law and then to investigate the various alternatives to prohibition available to federal lawmakers seeking to reform the nation’s marijuana laws.  I situate these alternatives on a continuum between the current federal prohibition and a relatively free market model similar to that in place in a state like Colorado.  Each of these models will have pluses and minuses and it is important that lawmakers firmly establish their goals in moving away from the prohibition of marijuana; winners and losers will be chosen in this area far sooner than many realize.

September 14, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Is Big Marijuana Inevitable?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this notable New Republic piece authored by lawprof Ryan Stoa, which answers the questionwith a "no" and gets started this way (with links from the original):

In November, voters in as many as 12 states will see a marijuana legalization initiative on their ballots. Marijuana is already legal for recreational use in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C. Another 25 states have legalized medical marijuana. The era of marijuana prohibition is rapidly coming to a close.

Unfortunately, lawmakers lack easy answers to tough questions facing the marijuana industry.  Legalization presents challenges on a number of fronts, including distribution, taxation, consumption, security and public health.

In a recent article, I argue that the agricultural sector of the marijuana industry also presents a number of challenges.  One paramount question looms over the rest: Will marijuana agriculture become consolidated, with “Big Marijuana” companies producing vast quantities of indistinct marijuana?  Or, will small-scale farmers thrive by producing unique and local marijuana strains?

My research shows that Big Marijuana is not inevitable.  On the contrary, a local, sustainable, small-scale farming future is entirely within reach.


August 20, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Timely new report on benefits of marijuana reform from West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy

This local article, headlined "Could legalizing marijuana be West Virginia's pot of gold?," reports on this interesting new policy brief released by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy suggests. The article summarizes the themes of the report, which is titled "Modernizing West Virginia's Marijuana Laws: Potential Benefits of Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana and Legalization." This summary comes directly from the first two pages of the full 27-page report:

Over the last two decades, states across the country have modernized their marijuana laws to reflect the growing evidence that doing so will help reduce criminal justice costs, help treat some medical conditions, and boost tax revenues and their state’s economy. As of 2016, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, 25 states (and DC) allow for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and 21 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. With several states considering ballot measures this November and public support for legalization rapidly growing (53% of Americans support legalization) among all age groups, the number of states taking action to undo restrictions on marijuana is likely to grow.

While most states have taken at least one step toward modernizing their marijuana laws, West Virginia has not. However, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in West Virginia over the last several years to legalize medical marijuana and tax marijuana for retail sales to adults. A 2013 poll found that a majority of West Virginians supports decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical use, while 46 percent supported regulating it like alcohol.

As West Virginia continues to be plagued by large budget deficits (a projected $300 million for FY 2018), an undiversified economy with a fading coal industry, and poor health outcomes, modernizing the state’s marijuana laws could be a step in addressing these problems and could help save the state money in the long run.

This report provides an overview of the states that have modernized their marijuana laws in recent years– including decriminalization, medical marijuana, and recreational use – and the implications for West Virginia if it decided to pursue a similar path. It provides an overview of federal and state marijuana laws (Section 1), an estimation of the potential tax revenue from legalizing recreational marijuana in West Virginia (Section 2), an evaluation of some potential benefits from modernizing West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 3), and recommendations on reforming West Virginia’s marijuana laws (Section 4).


  • If marijuana was legalized and taxed in West Virginia at a rate of 25 percent of its wholesale price the state could collect an estimated $45 million annually upon full implementation. If 10 percent of marijuana users who live within a 200-mile radius of West Virginia came to the state to purchase marijuana, the state could collect an estimated $194 million.

  • In 2010, it is estimated that West Virginia spent more than $17 million enforcing the state’s marijuana laws. Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana in West Virginia could reduce the number of marijuana-related arrests, especially among African Americans, which in turn, could reduce criminal-justice-related costs.

  • The marijuana industry has the potential to add jobs both directly and indirectly. As of September 2015, Colorado had 25,311 people licensed to work in its marijuana industry and over 1,000 retail marijuana businesses. If marijuana were legal in West Virginia it could also have the effect of increasing tourism to the state, particularly in regions with outdoor recreational activities.

  • Marijuana may potentially have a positive impact on West Virginia’s opioid-based painkiller and heroin epidemic by offering another, less-addictive alternative to individuals who are suffering from debilitating medical conditions.

August 19, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"Can the Next U.S. President Reschedule Marijuana?"

USP1310-CE-T2The question in the title of this post is the headline of this timely Inc. article, which essentially answers the question via its lengthy subheadline: "The DEA denied the most recent petition to reschedule marijuana, citing a lack of scientific evidence to prove its medical benefits. But here's how Obama, or the next U.S. president, can reschedule the drug." Here is more from the article:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has denied the most recent petitions to reschedule marijuana. But Hillary Clinton says that if she becomes president, she will move marijuana to the same category as oxycodone and other opioid painkillers available by a doctor's prescription. Clinton, through her senior policy adviser Maya Harris, told The Cannabist that she will reschedule marijuana from its position as a Schedule I substance to Schedule II under the Controlled Substances Act.

"Marijuana is already being used for medical purposes in states across the country, and it has the potential for even further medical use," said Harris in a statement. "As Hillary Clinton has said throughout this campaign, we should make it easier to study marijuana so that we can better understand its potential benefits, as well as its side effects."

Presidential candidates make all sorts of promises, but could a president actually reschedule marijuana unilaterally? The answer is yes, but not with a stroke of a pen.

John Hudak, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, explains that there are certain procedures in the Controlled Substances Act that must be followed. "A president cannot reschedule a substance by executive order, that is against the Controlled Substance Act," says Hudak. "It is against the letter of the law." Hudak says there is a suggestion in the CSA that the attorney general might be able to reschedule a substance unilaterally through an order, but that would fly against the long-established administrative procedure and might bump up serious legal challenges.

Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy and the director of the Crime Reduction & Justice Initiative at New York University's Marron Institute, explains how Hillary, if she wins, can follow through on her promise. "She is not making it up. She can reschedule marijuana. It's not that complicated," says Kleiman. The power to reschedule a substance, Kleiman says, has been delegated to the attorney general (who in turn delegates to the DEA) and to the Department of Health and Human Services (which in turn delegates its clinical testing to the FDA). "But, yes," he adds. "Those people work for the president, and, yes, the president can tell them to reschedule marijuana."

The logistical process of rescheduling, Kleiman says, would involve redefining what "current accepted medical use" means in the Controlled Substances Act. Again, it's up to the agencies (attorney general with the DEA; HHS with the FDA) to define what that term means. "All the DEA has to do is explain how they have overruled themselves and will be going back to what DEA administrative law judge Francis Young said in 1988, that 'medical use' means a bunch of physicians believe something is useful," says Kleiman. "The DEA could say how they take notice that a lot of physicians are recommending marijuana and how 25 state legislatures agree with the doctors. We are now saying this has accepted medical use, but it still has high abuse potential; we're putting it in Schedule II."

As the CSA gave authority to the attorney general, who in turn delegated to the DEA, those agencies are allowed to interpret statutes in varying degrees, unless the decisions are "obviously unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious," says Kleiman. That means if Clinton wanted to reschedule marijuana if she makes it to the White House, she could....

It should be noted, however, that rescheduling will not make the state-sanctioned recreational markets in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. legal, nor will it make the medical marijuana markets in 25 states legal. If marijuana becomes a Schedule II drug, it will still be illegal federally to use, produce, or manufacture. If marijuana were down-scheduled, it would still be federally illegal to produce and sell because Schedule II drugs cannot be given out without a prescription. A prescription can only be written for an FDA-approved drug, and there are no FDA-approved drugs made with the whole cannabis plant. (Marinol, which is FDA approved, is made with synthetic THC.)

As for the industry's hope that the whole plant will be FDA-approved, Hudak says not a chance. Hudak says if cannabis-based medicines are approved in the future, the medicines will not be botanical. Like other FDA-approved drugs, specific chemicals will be extracted and isolated at the molecular level in a method that is replicable and consistent. "You might see cannabinoid compounds rescheduled and put on the market, but whole flower smoked marijuana will never be approved," says Hudak.

August 18, 2016 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Noting that marijuana users are starting to look more like tobacco users than alcohol users

In a lot of my teaching about marijuana reform and policy advocacy, I try to get my students (and others) to explore and better understand why advocates for marijuana reform often want to talk so much about similarities between alcohol and marijuana, whereas advocates against marijuana reform often want to talk so much about similarities between tobacco and marijuana.  Against that brackdrop, this new Washington Post piece reporting on new research about marijuana use should boost the cause of opponents of marijuana reform.  Here are the details (with links from the original):

A massive study published this month in the Journal of Drug Issues found that the proportion of marijuana users who smoke daily has rapidly grown, and that many of those frequent users are poor and lack a high-school diploma. 

Examining a decade of federal surveys of drug use conducted between 2002 and 2013, study authors Steven Davenport and Jonathan Caulkins paint one of the clearest pictures yet of the demographics of current marijuana use in the U.S.  They found that the profile of marijuana users is much closer to cigarette smokers than alcohol drinkers, and that a handful of users consume much of the marijuana used in the U.S.   "In the early 1990s only one in nine past-month [marijuana] users reported using daily or near-daily," Davenport and Caulkins write. "Now it is fully one in three. Daily or near-daily users now account for over two-thirds of self-reported days of use (68%)."

These usage patterns are similar to what's seen among tobacco users. "What’s going on here is that over the last 20 years marijuana went from being used like alcohol to being used more like tobacco, in the sense of lots of people using it every day," Caulkins said in an email.  

Adults with less than a high school education accounted for 19 percent of all marijuana use in 2012 and 2013 (compared to 13 percent of the total adult population), according to the survey. This is similar to their 20 percent share of all cigarette use, but considerably higher than their 8 percent share of all alcohol use.   Similarly, Americans of all ages with a household income of less than $20,000 accounted for 29 percent of all marijuana use and 27 percent of all cigarette use, compared to only 13 percent of all alcohol use and 19 percent of the total adult population.

The concentration of use among poorer households means that many marijuana users are spending a high proportion of their income on their marijuana habit. Users who spend fully one quarter of their income on weed account for 15 percent of all marijuana use.  One interesting finding is that over the past 10 years as many states have liberalized their marijuana policies, marijuana arrests are down while marijuana purchases are up.  This means that the risk of getting arrested for marijuana use has fallen sharply since 2002. That year, there was one marijuana arrest for every 550 marijuana purchases, according to Davenport and Caulkins. By 2013, there was one marijuana arrest for every 1,090 purchases.

"The criminal risk per marijuana transaction has fallen by half," they conclude.  Much of that risk is still born by non-white marijuana users.

Davenport and Caulkins stress that since the study was conducted over a period preceding the opening of recreational marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington, it doesn't offer any evidence on the merits or lack thereof of legalization.  "Our results can in no way be interpreted as evidence toward the successes or failures of marijuana legalization or even medical marijuana laws," they write.  

However, they say their research presents a number of things to consider as states like California, Arizona and Maine vote on marijuana legalization this fall.   "Most people who have used marijuana in the past year are in full control of their use, and are generally happy with that use," Caulkins said in an email. But, "consumption is highly concentrated among the smaller number of daily & near-daily users, and they tend to be less educated, less affluent, and less in control of their use." 

The median marijuana user, in other words, may be someone who indulges periodically but generally doesn't consume a lot of it.  However, most of the marijuana consumed in the U.S. isn't consumed by the median marijuana user, but rather by the very heavy users who smoke daily or more.  "There is a sharp contrast between what policy is best for the typical user versus what is best for the people who consume most of the marijuana," Caulkins said.  


August 14, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 12, 2016

"7 Scientific Effects of Marijuana That Experts Want to Study"

The title of this is the headline of this new Time article that serves as a somewhat fitting follow-up to the (big?) news the DEA delivered this week about marijuana scheduling and research.   Here are excerpts:

On Thursday the U.S. government announced that marijuana would continue to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse.  However, the feds are allowing more research on marijuana’s medicinal uses by making it easier for researchers to grow it.

Many researchers, both those who view marijuana as beneficial and those who are skeptical, argue that the government’s stance still hinders research.  “I understand the cautious nature of the government, whose role is basically to protect its citizens, but it is disappointing that marijuana continues to be included on the DEA’s list of the most dangerous drugs,” says Dr. Yasmin Hurd of Mount Sinai, who studies the effects of marijuana on the brain.

Though more than 20 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal uses, there’s still a lot scientists don’t know about it.  “It’s actually quite amazing how little we really know about something that has been used for thousands of years,” says Sachin Patel of Vanderbilt University who studies cannabis.  “We desperately need well-controlled unbiased large scale research studies into the efficacy of cannabis for treating disease states, which we have very little of right now.  Without these studies we are basically flying blind with regard to medical marijuana in my opinion.”

Scientists argue that studying marijuana is safe, and researching it shouldn’t be such a difficult process.  “A question that is not on the lips of researchers is whether or not the consumption of cannabis-based medicines is safe,” says Gregory Gerdeman, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Eckerd College.  “In the biomedical research community, it is universally understood that cannabis is a very safe, well-tolerated medicine.”

Here’s what researchers tell TIME they want to know about marijuana.

Is marijuana an effective cancer therapy?...

What does it do to the brain?...

What dosage or strains have the best use in medicine?...

Can marijuana help brain and cognitive problems?...

What about anxiety?...

Can pot help end the opioid epidemic?...

Are there long term consequences of using pot?

August 12, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DEA announces new policy "designed to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to grow (manufacture) marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States"

As the DEA exaplins in this press release (which also notes its decision to deny petitions seeking rescheduling of marijuana under the CSA (discussed here)), the agency has "announced a policy change designed to foster research by expanding the number of DEA- registered marijuana manufacturers."  The formal announcement of the new policy can be found in this Federal Register document, and here is more about the policy change from the DEA press release:

This change should provide researchers with a more varied and robust supply of marijuana. At present, there is only one entity authorized to produce marijuana to supply researchers in the United States: the University of Mississippi, operating under a contract with NIDA.  Consistent with the CSA and U.S. treaty obligations, DEA’s new policy will allow additional entities to apply to become registered with DEA so that they may grow and distribute marijuana for FDA-authorized research purposes.

This change illustrates DEA’s commitment to working together with the FDA and NIDA to facilitate research concerning marijuana and its components. DEA currently has 350 individuals registered to conduct research on marijuana and its components.  Notably, DEA has approved every application for registration submitted by researchers seeking to use NIDA-supplied marijuana to conduct research that HHS determined to be scientifically meritorious. 

Encouragingly, John Hudak at Brookings, who understand the ins and outs of federal marijuana laws and regulations better than anyone, has this new commentary explainaing why he thinks this DEA marijuana research decision "is more important than rescheduling." Here is how he starts his must-read commentary:

Today the Drug Enforcement Administration is expected to announce its decision on a five-year-old marijuana rescheduling petition.  After a long wait and amid wild speculation about the agency’s intentions, DEA has decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance, but to take the unexpected step of ending the monopoly on the production of research grade marijuana.

This move will certainly disappoint many in the marijuana reform community who hoped that DEA would change marijuana’s status.  Under current policy — and now continuing policy — marijuana is categorized along with heroin and LSD as a substance that has no medical value and that has a high potential for abuse.  Reformers hoped that the administration would accept the claim that marijuana has medical benefit and can be used safely in treatment.  Today, it is opting not to do so.

However, DEA, in a clear sign of the growing political complexity around cannabis policy in the United States, will strike a balance.  Rather than wholly maintaining the current policy, the administration nixed a different stumbling block to the study of marijuana and its efficacy as a medical product: the DEA mandated monopoly on the growth of marijuana for research (administered through the National Institutes on Drug Abuse).  The DEA-mandated NIDA monopoly was cited as a significant barrier to research by observers like myself, Mark Kleiman and many others, as well as clinical researchers themselves.

Despite reformers’ discontent, this decision may be more meaningful than the ultimate goal of rescheduling for both policy and political reasons.

August 11, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Should I care more about (and is anyone studying closely) state marijuana decriminalization reforms?

DecrimThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article from Illinois headlined "Rauner reduces punishment for minor pot possession from jail to citation." Here are the details:

Getting caught with small amounts of marijuana will result in citations akin to a traffic ticket instead of the possibility of jail time under legislation Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Friday.

Rauner's approval of the decriminalization measure comes after he used his amendatory veto powers last year to rewrite similar legislation he argued would have allowed people to carry too much pot and fine violators too little.

Supporters incorporated his proposed changes, and under the new law those caught with up to 10 grams of marijuana will face fines of $100 to $200. Individual municipalities could add to the fines and implement other penalties, such as requiring offenders to attend drug treatment. Citations would be automatically expunged twice a year, on Jan. 1 and July 1.

Under previous Illinois law, possession of up to 10 grams of pot was a class B misdemeanor that could result in up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,500.

The law also would loosen the state's zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence. Before, a driver could be charged if any trace of marijuana was detected, even if it was ingested weeks before and the driver showed no signs of impairment. Under the new law, drivers won't be charged with DUI unless they have 5 nanograms or more of THC in their blood, or 10 nanograms or more of THC in their saliva.

The state law follows a measure enacted by Chicago in 2012 that allows police to issue tickets of $250 to $500 for someone caught with 15 grams or less of marijuana. The state law wouldn't override laws in cities such as Chicago that already have fines in place, but would create uniformity across the state for towns that don't have such measures on the books.

The effort marks a rare point of agreement between Rauner and Democrats. Both sides seek to cut the burden on the court system and overhaul the state's approach to criminal justice. "We applaud Gov. Rauner and the legislature for replacing Illinois's needlessly draconian marijuana possession law with a much more sensible policy," Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement. "This commonsense legislation will prevent countless citizens from having their lives turned upside down by a marijuana possession arrest."

I tend to view so-called "decriminalization" of marijuana to be something of a misnomer because a person still risks fines and other problems from marijuana possession even after laws are changed in this way. Moreover, I think only some form of legalization enhances the benefits of serious marijuana reform. But, especially if there is developing research showing that decriminalization significantly reduces the economic and human costs of marijuana prohibition, perhaps I should get more excited when more states join the decriminalization bandwagon.

July 31, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Can anybody point me to great databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana convictions (state or federal)?

The question in the title of this post started banging around my head this afternoon after I did two posts today over at my Sentencing Law & Policy blog: this one about a notable federal misdemeanor marijuana prosecution of a Native American teen in Oregon and this one about an article doing an empirical analysis of the "downstream consequences" of pretrial detention for misdemeanors.

I am always trying to take stock of the criminal justice "footprint" of marijuana prohibition, and it should be obviously that misdemeanor charges, convictions and punishments are surely a huge (and probably the largest) part of that footprint.  Nevertheless, I have never seen (nor really every seriously looked for) any detailed databases or empirical analyses of misdemeanor marijuana cases in any particular jurisdiction.  I would be very grateful to hear from any and everyone who know whether and where such resources might be found.

July 28, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States | Permalink | Comments (0)